I’ve been a record store rat since I was about 9 (no, I won’t tell you how many years ago that was), but I’ve whiled away countless hours in the dens of wonder, from sea to shining sea and even beyond.
Luckily, there are still some great record shops in town, but not nearly as many as there used to be. Here are six lost Milwaukee places that I wish were still here (in no particular order)...
In addition to his "Jamaican Winds" radio show on WLUM-FM, Nigel Scott ran this Caribbean vinyl emporium on 27th and Wells. When I arrived here, I’d walk across the 27th Street viaduct in the snow to get there. If I eschewed the bus, I could afford another gem from Nigel’s timeless stash of great 45s, LPs and 12"s. Like any self-respecting reggae shop, the records were alphabetized by first name.
When he shuttered the shop, he’d still invite me over to his northwest side house to cherry pick stock. Nigel was a gem and I miss his shop as much for him as for the records I got there.
Atomic/Ludwig Van Ear
What to say about Atomic and its predecessor? Atomic owner Rich Menning had what has to be Milwaukee’s most landmark-worth record store, after, maybe, Radio Doctors. What he didn’t stock – which wasn’t much in the world of alternative and punk rock records – he’d order. In addition to stocking and supporting local bands – and hosting in-store performances – he hired knowledgeable staff, who were often local musicians. Also like Radio Doctors, it seemed like a place that would never go away. Sadly, they both did.
When I was devouring hip-hop and club records in the second half of the 1980s, Audie’s on 23rd and Capitol (first on the south side of Capitol and later across the drive) had it all. I dropped more coin there than I probably should have.
Mean Mountain Music
For a while I had an unquenchable thirst for vintage R&B, especially the great 45s that flowed from Detroit in the 1960s and early ‘70s via Groovesville, Ric-Tic, Golden World, Westbound and other labels. Amazingly, the folks at Mean Mountain on 8th and Oklahoma Avenue had so many of these records in stock in mint condition, you’d think they were new releases instead of 20-25 years old.
Dave Szolwinski ran Earwaves in three locations on Farwell Avenue from about 1985 until Luke Lavin bought the final location next to Landmark Lanes and turned it into Farwell Music. I stopped in all three of them as if my life or job depended on it. The first two locations (the initial building was razed to build Pizza Shuttle’s home) fed my weekly thirst for the NME as well as for all the latest singles from The Mekons, The Smiths, The Style Council, The Three Johns, Redskins and the other bands that made ‘80s music great. But, really, like most of these places, I loved the place in large part because I liked the people.
What to say about Radio Doctors? My grandfather bought records there and so did my mom. Before I even moved here, I’d shop there when we’d come to town to visit my grandparents. The day I moved to Milwaukee. The actual very first day, I took the #20 bus to Radio Doctors to make myself feel better. Over the years, Radio Doctors often made me feel better thanks to Dorsey’s advice about hip-hop, Pope’s jazz advice and the singles section. But I bought out of nearly every section of the site. I can vividly remember buying records there by The Jam, The Wailing Souls, Jimmy Smith, Gang of Four and tons more. Like Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, it seemed impossible that there could be a Milwaukee without Radio Doctors, but it’s gone and we’re still here.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.